Boseman was not just another Black actor pushing diversity, he showed any man could be superman
Legends die young. And 2020 has not been a kind year, particularly to those in the entertainment industry, both in India and abroad. But the death of Hollywood actor Chadwick Boseman at a young age of 43 hurts that much more. Because he was the Black Panther, the avenger of wrongs, the challenger of a White world and a transitional perfection from man to superman. Because he was the king of Wakanda, upholding the spirit of tradition and embracing modernity with that rare combination of warmth and intelligence. He may have played Black icons like Jackie Robinson and James Brown but as Black Panther, that lithe, smart and fearless warrior, he transcended barriers and made a place in everybody’s hearts. Black Panther was the first superhero film to be nominated for a best picture Oscar and one of the highest-grossing films of all time, bringing in over $1.3 billion. This despite the many icons emerging from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In life, Boseman was no less a fighter. In between his fight with cancer, numerous surgeries and chemotherapy sessions, he gave us films like Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and many more. A private man, he had kept the news of his fight with the disease to himself and married his long-time partner and singer Taylor Simon Ledward earlier this year, maybe because he knew the end was near. And he never forgot to wish his friend and Democrat Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris a few days ago.
Black Panther will always represent a watershed moment in popular culture, particularly for African-Americans. A legacy that Boseman was clearly very proud of and for which he had travelled to Africa. The film was considered to be a positive force for social change in the US and at that time, activist Frederick T Joseph raised money through a GoFundMe campaign called “Help Children See Black Panther.” He was quoted as saying that he was promoting “stories and content that’s combatting the rhetoric and racism of the Trump Administration.” In fact, the film made Marvel consider more inclusions. Black Widow and Captain Marvel are more than just about women empowerment, they are the carriers of the future. However, a realist, Boseman himself did not think that Black Panther had in any way solved Hollywood’s much-touted diversity issues. He said that it came about as a result of a moment that had been building over years with works like the Martin Luther King drama Selma, the Disney fantasy-adventure A Wrinkle in Time and TV shows such as Insecure. He believed that quality film-making was needed for Hollywood to embrace diversity as the new normal rather than just doing movies with a Black cast and director. His own work he considered as “just another doorway into something else.” Hopefully a perennial kingdom called Wakanda.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
As cops bicker, politicians jump in and the CBI takes up the probe into his death, point-scoring dims the talent he was
Over a month into Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, conspiracy theories surrounding it have refused to die down. Did the gifted talent wither away, traumatised and depressed? Was he pushed a bit too hard over the edge by Bollywood’s incestuous cliques? Was he blackmailed and threatened about his finances by girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty or was he exploited by some money-laundering gang? Such has been the unending volley of questions that he continues to dominate news cycles despite the pandemic. Now the Supreme Court, where Rhea had petitioned against her victimisation by the actor’s family, has taken note, seeking an impartial and comprehensive probe, following which the CBI has taken it up. Sadly and inappropriately, Sushant has been iconised by his death than his life’s work and for his sake, it is imperative the truth comes out and there is closure. So that he is not defined by the haze of the underbelly but by his achievements. For his sake, we must know if it was suicide or murder, so that we can restore his dignity and peace. For his sake, we must know how serious was he a victim of mental depression as that becomes a malaise of a generation under extreme pressure of performance and expectation. Most importantly, the blame games and needless politicking in his name must stop right now.
Hardly anybody caught in the nepotism slugfest in the film industry had been around to help him or know him better when he needed them. The turf war between the Mumbai and Bihar police, both of which are conducting parallel investigations, has turned the probe into a game of one-upmanship than about assessing the facts of the case. The Bihar police seems to be acting at the behest of Sushant’s politically-connected family and raising questions which the Mumbai police should have taken note of rather than dismissing them as a coercive tactic. Both should be exchanging notes and information to clear the haze of speculation. Otherwise, the bickering is only emaciating them and eroding public trust. But reprehensibly, it’s the politicians across the divide in Bihar who are hellbent on making justice for the “son of the soil” an electoral issue when they have had no active association with him. Such was the pressure from the Opposition, with its leader Tejaswi Yadav leading an all-party demand to treat it as a national issue, that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had to recommend a CBI probe into his death. Question is whether they would stop at that or keep the ball rolling if the findings are not to their liking. Therefore, given the political and regional sensitivities involved, there is this lingering fear that Sushant’s case, like that of the Arushi murder case and Jessica Lal’s before it, could drag on for years. And if indeed we lost him to depression, then that is the biggest casualty of this debate.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Just look at the way party tickets are distributed during a parliamentary election and you realise that ‘being connected’ matters a lot. It’s no different from Bollywood
The sudden and tragic demise of Sushant Singh Rajput in rather mysterious circumstances has triggered a huge debate on all that is wrong with Bollywood, especially the incestuous relationship that exists within the film fraternity and the discouragement, if not hostility, with which it greets “outsiders.” While the Mumbai police is still probing the cause of his death, Sushant’s colleague, Kangana Ranaut, another “outsider” who has had to struggle to find her place in the industry, has stirred the hornet’s nest by talking about a “movie mafia” that exists in Mumbai and the nepotistic tendencies that it promotes. Her detailed interview to a private television channel recently has dredged up a lot of muck and brought the issue of nepotism to the centrestage.
One of the allegations against the “Bollywood mafia” after Sushant’s tragic death is that it drives talented “outsiders” out of the business while promoting mediocrity among “nepo-kids” (children of film stars). This is not to say that star kids are not talented. Many of them have blossomed as excellent actors. But there is no denying the fact that they have a safety net. Interestingly, what is true of the cinema world in Mumbai is also true of the world of politics in Lutyens’ Delhi and elsewhere in the country. Nepotism is so well entrenched that it is now central to our way of life. However, even if it is a bit late in the day, one must identify this trend and call it out because it militates against the democratic dharma, which demands a level-playing field for everyone.
Producer-director Karan Johar, who has been at the receiving end of Kangana’s accusations, has not, in fact, denied the part played by nepotism in the film industry. He has stated publicly that when a producer launches the son of a movie star, he is actually wanting to be in a “comfort zone” because eventually, it’s also a commercial decision. “A big movie star’s son is going to get the eye balls…you don’t want to take a chance…it’s money.” In other words, he says, producers feel “protected” when they are in that (nepotism) zone.
Is this not true of politics as well? Just look at the way party tickets are distributed during a parliamentary election and you realise that “being connected” matters a lot — or so it did for much of the seven decades that have gone by after independence. In fact, nepotism is so well entrenched that the children and grandchildren of individuals, who held public offices at the national level in India many decades ago, almost deem it their right to represent the constituencies which their grandfathers or grandmothers represented and live in the very houses which their forefathers occupied in Lutyens’ Delhi. They get so attached to these houses that after a while they even forget that these dwellings are public properties. And in case they are not living in those houses, the second and third generation politicians demand that they be converted into memorials or mausoleums.
The Nehru-Gandhis are the real initiators of this trend in our national politics and in Lutyens’ Delhi. It began in the days of our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, when he ensured the appointment of his daughter, Indira Gandhi, as the president of the Indian National Congress in 1959. What happened thereafter is fairly well-known to the people of the country. As one member of this family succeeded another as the country’s Prime Minister, the family’s familiarity with our republican Constitution grew weaker and weaker and it began to imagine that India was indeed a monarchy.
As this family entrenched itself and started promoting its relatives and friends, the Nehruvian School became dominant and ambitious bureaucrats, academicians, thought leaders, artists, media professionals and businessmen became part of it. All of them realised that only those who were part of this caravan, could climb the ladder in bureaucracy, academia, media and so on.
Barring honourable exceptions, all the Governors, Vice Chancellors, newspaper editors, TV anchors and Padma Award winners were members of this school. There was no such thing as respect for diversity or other points of view. In politics, those who made it to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in the days of the Congress’s complete dominance, had to be part of this ideological “biraadri” of their fellow travellers. So the whims and fancies of this family became the law and its nepotistic attitude was dignified and universalised when it promoted the children and grandchildren of its loyalists and hangers-on.
All this went on unchallenged until Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in May 2014. He has emerged as the arch disruptor and has substantially worked towards creation of a level-playing field in Lutyens’ Delhi. Kangana is doing the same in Bollywood — fearlessly calling out those who shamelessly promote nepotism in the Hindi film industry and even launch vicious attacks on talented “outsiders” who dare to find a place for themselves in Bollywood.
For example, it appears to be common practice to crack jokes in television shows and public events at the expense of newcomers like what Shah Rukh Khan and Shahid Kapoor did to Sushant during an IIFA awards event. Kangana also talks about some extremely worrying situations, like when a noted Bollywood director told Sushant that he was not drifting but drowning.
Further, Sushant began life in Maldiha in Purnia district, Bihar. He was a National Olympiad winner in physics. A rank holder in an entrance exam for a top-of-the-line engineering college. He had eclectic interests, ranging from reading to mathematics and astronomy to dance, music and cinema. Was he too much of an intellectual for Bollywood because many “stars” have publicly gloated over their poor academic record? In fact, Karan Johar has confessed that he was told at a young age that if he wanted to make Hindi movies, “you don’t need to be qualified….and this doesn’t speak highly of the fraternity I come from.”
This writer is not a movie buff but he got to see some of Sushant’s work — his lead roles in Chichchore and in the biopic on MS Dhoni, for example. His sensitive portrayals in both these movies is there for all to see. So how come Bollywood, instead of embracing and promoting such talent, chose to drive him into a corner? If there is a “mafia” or to put it more accurately, a cosy club of nepotists, it must be identified and called out. The issues raised by Kangana call for some serious debate and cleaning up.
Further, if Sushant’s death is not to go in vain, the democratisation of Bollywood is essential and a level-playing field is absolutely essential. But this can happen only if the current national indignation at the treatment meted out to Sushant is turned into a national movement to encourage the work of talented “outsiders” and, more importantly, gets reflected at the box office.
(Writer: A Surya Prakash; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
The act of prioritising birth over worth and family connections over merit has wiped out several talented individuals, thriving empires, civilisations, dynasties and nations off the face of the Earth
Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide has once again sparked off a countrywide debate on nepotism, favouritism and dynasticism. Since time immemorial, nepotism and its offshoot, political dynasticism, have posed grave threats to the rise of an egalitarian society. The act of prioritising birth over worth and family connections over merit has wiped out several talented individuals, thriving empires, civilisations, dynasties and nations off the face of the Earth. In the second century AD, the Roman emperor and stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, committed the aforementioned mistake, which gradually brought the mighty Roman Empire to its knees. Blinded by paternal love, he went against the tradition of appointing a capable and efficient man as his successor and chose instead his incompetent son Commodus as the next emperor. Prior to this, no Roman emperor had chosen his son as the heir. The rest, as they say is history and ironically Rome itself became history.
Unfortunately, the story of our civilisation is no different. Everyone is familiar with the epic tale of the moral blindness of King Dhritarashtra that caused the great Mahabharata. In The Great Indian Novel (1989), which is an allegorical retelling of Vyas’ epic, Shashi Tharoor satirises India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as the Dhritarashtra of modern India. His daughter and late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, on the other hand, is recast as Priya Duryodhani, a fictional representation of the eldest son of King Dhritarashtra, the antagonist Duryodhana. While writing this magnificent political satire, Shashi Tharoor would never have thought in his wildest dreams that one day he would join the Congress Party. But then, writers do enjoy poetic licence. The heart of the matter, nevertheless, is that the names of Dhritarashtra, Aurelius and Nehru will continue to be taken in the same breath.
In fact, one of Nehru’s Ministers seems to have quipped that the late Prime Minister was like a banyan tree in whose shade nothing else could grow. However, it is well-known that another banyan tree can grow and thrive under an older banyan tree. Disenchanted with the nepotism and dynasticism of the Gandhi family, the celebrated socialist poet Nagarjun had foregrounded this decadent aspect of post-Independent India. The Hindi poet exploded in rage against Indira and wrote: “Induji, Induji, kya hua aapko? Bete ko taar diya, bor diya baap ko”, which can be roughly translated as “Indu, what happened to you? You gave your sons, name and fame and brought a bad name to your father.”
If the father-daughter duo were accused of promoting their scions at the expense of others, in the post-Nehruvian era, the situation exacerbated at the level of regional politics as well. Many of Ram Manohar Lohia’s acolytes in States such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh started a rat race to send family members to the Parliament and State assemblies, often at the expense of capable party workers. “Service to the family is service to the nation,” became their motto. Therefore, while accusing Bollywood of nepotism, it becomes imperative to ask: Is there any sector which is or has ever remained untouched by it? Its all-pervasive influence can be felt in the field of arts, industry and business, the judiciary, religious circles, education, writing, film, politics and numerous other areas.
It would be apt here to adduce one instance of favouritism in the field of higher education from colonial times. Unlikely as it might sound, acclaimed authors such as Munshi Premchand and Iqbal, too, became its victims. In 1918, Premchand and Iqbal applied for lecturership at the newly-established Osmania University in Hyderabad. Iqbal had just returned with a degree from Cambridge University and was a man to be reckoned with, while Premchand had become quite famous as a short story writer. But they had no godfather. So, despite their best efforts, neither Premchand was appointed as a lecturer of Urdu nor did Iqbal manage to become a philosophy teacher. The job was eventually given to one Akbar Haidari, who was close to British officials.
Unfortunately, the situation either remained the same or aggravated further after India acquired Independence. Several stalwarts would have similar stories to share, for in academics and elsewhere, too, favouritism continued to be practised unabated.
The Hindi satirist Harishankar Parsai has put it succinctly in one of his satires entitled Rani Naagfani ki Kahani (Story of Queen Naagfani) in which the narrator quips that what matters most in an interview is the column — “Kiska aadmi (whose man are you?)” While Parsai had excoriated the ways in which interviews were being conducted by some State Service Commissions, such malpractices are still extensively practised in the appointments of faculty members and administrators across universities and colleges in the country. In recent times, several scrupulous stakeholders have highlighted the need to abolish interviews in such appointments and conduct an all-India level examination to depoliticise the nation’s higher education system and cure it of the plague of nepotism. This could be a watershed moment in our education sector but to persuade the high and mighty to accept such changes could be as difficult as cajoling a cat to give up a bowl of cream.
The battle against favouritism, nepotism and dynasticism, which are the residues of pre-modern societies, has to be fought at several fronts. But where does one start? A natural choice would be to look up to the temple of Indian democracy — our Parliament. But what a great disillusionment awaits us there. As per a survey conducted by historian and political commentator Patrick French, two-thirds of the MPs in the last Lok Sabha had a close relative in politics. Standard accounts suggest there are very few parliamentarians who have not inherited politics as a vocation and enjoyed ancestral privileges in politics. The words of the ancient Roman satirist Juvenal — “Who will guard the guards?” — seem to be quite appropriate here. Who will legislate against the legislators? Any expectation of a law against this malady, then, will turn out to be a wild goose chase.
However, the absence of a legal provision against nepotism in public life should not be so disappointing after all, for two main reasons. One, despite its prevalence in all walks of life, there are numerous individuals, who have a rags-to-riches story to share and who made it big on account of perseverance, dedication and integrity.
We may find such scintillating tales of success not only all around us but also in our epic, the Mahabharata. In the great Indian epic, characters such as Sanjaya, Ekalavya and Karna transcended their origins and went down as heroes after bravely facing the hardships of a steep hierarchical society. And two, the biggest paradox of the human mind is that human conscience cannot be governed by law. But there are moments in history when one’s conscience is definitely shaken and social awareness is created against certain iniquities.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is one such turning point, which must trigger a movement against favouritism, not only in Bollywood but also in all spheres of our public life. In a modern, democratic nation, one’s identity should not be determined by one’s birth, family connections, social and community ties but by actions and virtues. In pre-modern and to some extent in early modern societies across the world, such practices were quite common before the emergence of democracy and the rise of the middle class. Those who belonged to a non-aristocratic class had few avenues to achieve socially-upward mobility and were always in the pursuit of a patron or a godfather. Intellectuals and sensitive souls felt decentred and disoriented in this world order. Alexander Pope, the eminent 18 century British poet, had summed it up in a humorous and satirical couplet: “I am his highness’s dog at Kew. Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?” Although Pope had written this for the prince’s pug, the aphorism, “Whose dog are you?” was often earnestly used to denounce the system of patronage. There is an uncanny resemblance between Harishankar Parsai’s aforementioned observation — “Whose Man are you” and Pope’s biting statement. But what is fateful and worrisome is that even in the post-enlightenment world, this system has persisted.
The continuation of the culture of patronage in contemporary times poses a serious threat to our claims of being called civilised and enlightened. If we don’t protest against this rampant nepotism, which violates the constitutional principle of equality of opportunity, our society may end up producing malcontents and we may lose many more precocious talent like Sushant Singh Rajput. We all know that it will be detrimental to the rise of a new India in the post-COVID world, threatened by the expansionist policies of a hostile China.
(Writer: Lalit Kumar; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Ramayan, Mahabharat and old TV hits find takers in this generation seeking the comfort of nostalgia
Every crisis brings with it an opportunity and the present pandemic has resurrected the nearly-dead public service broadcaster founded by the Government in the late 50s, Doordarshan (DD). Time was when DD, as it was colloquially called, was the only channel in the country and people used to wait the whole week for their all-time favourites, Chitrahaar, Krishi Darshan and, of course, the Sunday movie. Then DD began expanding its fare with Sunday and primetime treats like Star Trek, Secrets of the Sea, Here’s Lucy, Yes, Minister, Different Strokes and the likes. But of course, these were watched mostly by the urban, English-speaking viewers and not by the masses. Then in the 80s came the era of the mega soaps, like Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan and BR Chopra’s Mahabharat and the whole of India was hooked to DD like never before. No one had ever attempted something on such a huge scale before and, of course, the mythological content was lapped up by everyone in urban and rural India alike, because we in India wear our religion on our sleeves. People actually used to factor in their social commitments around Ramayan and Mahabharat, such was their hold on the imagination. Then came the era of Direct to Home channels with slick productions powered by money and unfettered use of better technology, something that DD, bogged down by red-tapism and babudom, could not compete with. But in Corona-weary times and a distraught nation seeking solace and comfort in the simple joys of nostalgia, Ramayan and other old hits have rescued DD yet again as a leader of content. In fact, March 25 onwards, most TV channels actually had a “captive” audience, viewership rising by 37 per cent.
And as live soaps began drying up due to actors being unable to arrive for shoots due to the nationwide lockdown, DD dug into its archives to pull out its hit shows of the 80s and had the nation hooked again. In the first week of April 3, a whopping 545.8 million viewers tuned in to DD National to watch reruns of Ramayan while 145.8 million watched Mahabharat on DD Bharti, says a report by Broadcast Audience Research Council. Reruns of Shaktimaan on DD National attracted 20.8 million viewers, while Byomkesh Bakshi, Shrimaan Shrimati, Buniyaad, Dekh Bhai Dekh and Circus also witnessed a similar rise in viewership. Shows that when it comes to content, DD did have a spark at one time. Maybe it will reinvent itself, post-lockdown, prizing quality once again.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
…but the cultural and creative sectors need financial help, too, as they have been ravaged by the impact of stringent public health measures imposed by the Govt to stem the pandemic
The cultural and creative sectors across the world have been ravaged by the impact of stringent public health measures, with performances and arts festivals cancelled, theatres, museums and cinemas closed and film and television production halted. The list, sadly, goes on. For the unorganised arts sector in India, the impact is worse than ruinous. In times of crises, artistes are often among those most affected. In addition to health concerns, this is a challenging time for many in our community as we deal with cancelled incomes, investments made for booking venues, paid advances to technical and other staff that cannot be recovered, cancellation of teaching and other such activities. In addition, trying to make plans for future dates for performances and festivals, resuming teaching and choreographic activities, while sustaining one’s creative inspiration, in these very uncertain times is very unnerving.
March has already had a devastating economic impact on India’s non-profit arts sector. Since the first State-level orders of cancelling all events, sports activities, anything that meant an audience or congregation, in early March, nixing of several scheduled events, festivals and performances has been reported across the length and breadth of the country. Many freelancers have seen their livelihoods disappear overnight. We are entering a period of unprecedented isolation and worry for people in the field of culture, be they artistes, stage workers, technicians or other workforce that come under the category of self-employed people.
As we know already, dancers, musicians, painters, sculptors and others involved in artistic pursuits are vulnerable and suffer from insecurities that come with the territory. The situation is unique and heartbreaking, because there are so many implications for everybody and there will be a domino effect on all those connected with the arts sector. Artistes are crying out for help from the Government in a bid to seek revalidation and have resonance.
As COVID-19 continues to spread across India, both Union and State Ministries of culture should sustain this sector as best as they can, so that artistes and organisations can continue to nourish the imagination of people across the country, both during the crisis and in the period of recovery.
Recognising that in the current pandemic, artistes as independent workers, arts organisations dependent on gathering groups together and creative people engaged in travel and exchange are especially affected, both Union Ministries of Culture and Tourism and State Governments should be proactive. They should be committed to creating, amplifying and sharing resources to support artistes and communities, always as part of their mission and at this time especially.
It is hard to understand why there has been a stony silence from the Culture Ministry. It’s almost as if we do not exist for them and/or, if we do, they do not care about the welfare of the sector they are mandated to be working for.
The Ministry should stand with the cultural and creative sector in these difficult times. Their duty is to do everything they can to mobilise further support from the Finance Ministry for these critical sectors.
While I welcome the Prime Minister’s Office’s and the Finance Ministry’s swift responses to aid and change rules to support a huge majority of Jan Dhan account holders, migrant labour, daily wagers, struggling businesses, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), deferred payment of EMIs, deferred filing of Goods and Service Tax (GST), claiming refund on taxes and so on, I, once again, appeal to them, to understand that cultural and creative businesses are also struggling and they need financial support now.
Our country is generally recognised as the arts and spiritual capital of the world. Our responsibility is to nurture and nourish our artistic heritage and deep-rooted culture and traditions and we can do this, at this time of crisis, only by valuing and preserving our living artistes, performers, teachers the cultural workforce and to give them assurances and hope that the Government stands with them to ensure that there is a semblance of stability and security in their lives until life reboots to “normal.”
The following remedial measures for the arts and culture sector can be considered by the Government. Set up a culture relief fund recognising that artistes and cultural workers exist within precarious work and employment conditions, often as self-employed or contract workers.
They are also the driving force of our artistic and cultural sector and the broader creative economy. The Government must also direct some of the Corporate Social Responsibility monies towards the culture relief fund and ensure that dedicated funding is available to the arts and culture sector as part of the recovery plan.
Artistes and culture workers, who have been hit hard by lack of earnings, could be given a basic minimum payment to sustain themselves for these three-four months.
Artistes, culture workers and non-profit organisations must be given the option of deferred filing of taxes until January 2021, reclaiming of Tax Deduction at Source (TDS) on fixed deposits and savings that they may have, deferred payments of rentals, deferred filing of TDS, GST(as the case maybe), electricity and such overhead costs incurred for maintenance of culture spaces that cannot operate for three-four months.
Plus, grants already approved for non-profits for organising conferences and festivals or individual events and programmes must be made available to such organisations by relaxing compliances until things slowly return to normal.
Those non-profit organisations that have been unable to conduct events, conferences, or performances due to the outbreak of COVID-19 should be permitted to utilise the funds for other activities that they may decide to conduct in future as per the timelines and curation, without imposing restrictions of compliances to a said financial year.
Artistes and culture workers should also be given health security for themselves and their families, should any be affected by the current pandemic.
Non-profits currently availing of repertory grant and salary grant be given funds to reimburse salaries of dancers, musicians and culture workers, who have not come for rehearsals because of the lockdown and to maintain the number of artistes and others on their payroll, so they are secure and can continue artistic pursuits.
Also, 20 per cent of the grants that they were given in the last two years, should be given to non-profits working in culture as “sustenance or maintenance fund”, for any of these factors that determine their situation: Employees who stopped working due to COVID-19 and do not have access to paid leave or other income support. Workers who are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19. Staff who must stay home without pay to care for children that are sick or need additional care. Employees who still have their employment but are not being paid because there is currently not enough work and there is uncertainty of work in future.
Non-profit organisations understandably cannot continue to retain and pay staff salaries because of the uncertainty of funding and future work that will be available.
Many countries that have experienced the severe impact of Covid-19 have doled out benefits to the arts and culture sector, recognising its importance and valuing its contribution in upholding the creative strength of their nations.
It is time for India to act, too, and give some tangible benefits to the arts and culture sector that is engaged in propagating the intangible heritage of our country.
Creative capital has always been anchored by a rich spirit of community and mutual generosity and I hope that CSR for culture becomes mandatory to reboot the sector. Without sufficient funds, creativity and creation of works of dance, music, painting, sculpture and others will suffer. Therefore, continuing communication and exchange are crucial for all of us.
(Writer: Pratibha Prahlad; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
The film industry is staring at a Rs 1,300 crore loss and a revision of star values. Will this demolish star domination?
The Coronavirus is a great leveller. The once soaring jet-setters around the globe are now just like the rest of us, confined to the walls of their own homes. Who would imagine Hollywood star Tom Hanks getting it of all people while scouting for locale of his new film? Back home in Bollywood, reality has hit hard too as stars take to micro-blogging sites, using their home diaries and even plebeian activities to stay relevant. With all big ticket releases stalled and shooting schedules cancelled because of the nationwide lockdown, our film industry is looking at a projected loss of Rs 1,300 crore. What’s more, the sudden career break is not doing anything good to stars whose market value is decided by hits and misses. Elaborate film sets now lie empty and Mumbai’s mega tourist attraction, Film City, has cancelled all tours indefinitely. Big-budget ventures like Akshay Kumar’s Suryavanshi, Kabir Khan’s 83, starring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, and Salman Khan’s Radhe have been postponed. And with festival celebrations forever changing in a post-COVID-19 India, there is not much cheer around a big Eid or Diwali release. But Bollywood is not all about stars. There are character artistes, technicians, spot boys and logistics staff, who are all hired on a temporary basis, have no long-term security cover and are suddenly jobless. The distributors and cinema hall owners have all flatlined in their ventures. By rolling out 1,500 films a year, the Indian film industry is one of the country’s biggest generators of employment. As for debutantes, who have invested their all in a film career, this lull will affect their ability to get work as producers will prioritise pending projects first.
This time of crisis has also brought out the philanthropic side of numerous celebrities. Of course, the big fish in the industry are trying to do their bit for COVID-19 management. Akshay Kumar has donated a whopping Rs 25 crore to the PM Relief Fund. Kartik Aaryan has donated Rs 1 crore to the PM Cares Fund. Superstar Rajnikanth has donated Rs 50 lakh to the Film Employees Federation of South India to help workers who are losing their jobs due to the shutdown. Varun Dhawan has pledged Rs 30 lakh contribution to the PM Cares fund and Rs 25 lakh to the Maharashtra’s CM Fund. One would have expected Bollywood’s royal clans to do some more but at the moment they haven’t. Perhaps, this may serve as a reality check to their s/hero worshipping fans. Going forward, maybe brands need to think their hefty endorsement fee for some so-called stars. Only those who helped and contributed in their own way will come out with a stronger, more loyal fan following than those who did not.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Should Kunal Kamra have been banned from flying? If so, why should rules be different for him and TV channels?
While flying on an aircraft, one expects some peace. Away from the pressures of daily life, on domestic flights at least, we are disconnected from the 24×7 world we live in. While you may jostle for the armrest with the person sitting next to you, on the whole, you expect your fellow passenger to respect your private space, just like we respect the personal space of others. Flying, therefore, has a level of civility that has gone missing 35,000 feet below on the ground. So, did comedian Kunal Kamra cross the line when he heckled television anchor Arnab Goswami on a flight recently? Yes. While Kamra himself released the video and claimed to have apologised to the crew for his actions, no matter how he justified them, they were completely and totally unacceptable. That said, the speed with which he was banned from flying was incredibly rapid and left no scope for redressal. There is a process to ban someone from flying that includes setting up an internal committee, waiting for its report, allowing a passenger to contest in an appellate body of the Civil Aviation Ministry and a court. Airlines just cannot follow a diktat from the Civil Aviation Minister. What seems to have irritated people on social media is how the rules were applied to Kamra when they have not been used against Goswami’s own news channel. His team members have historically boarded aircraft to harry passengers. There needs to be one rule for all. The Government needs to put its foot down and ban harassment of passengers onboard. Television cameras should not be allowed on aircraft and any channel or passenger who is found to be flouting the rules ought to be banned from flying.
The other reason for this is that flying is also an inherently dangerous mode of travel with terrorists finding civil aviation a juicy target. Had Kamra pulled his stunt in the US, he would have not only been on the “no-fly” list but also possibly inside Guantanamo Bay. While he is trying his darndest to become a martyr, the fact is that he knows exactly what he was doing. He should understand that he would have to pay a price. The Government, too, needs to know that it would be lionising him with its vengeance as he cries victimhood.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Devika Daulat Singh of Photoink stands apart amongst gallery persona in Delhi. She has a quiet sophistication far-removed from other profit-pursuing self-proclaimed curators. At Photoink the finale for 2018 is a historic legacy which belongs to Vivan Sundaram, the nephew of Amrita Shergil. “These are letters and archival material found in an old trunk,” says Devika as she supervises the show’s display. Wakefulness and the Dream State: A Self-Study by Umrao Singh Sher-Gil consists of photographs, drawings and scholia (grammatical, critical, or explanatory comments, either original or extracted from pre-existing commentaries, which are inserted on the margin of the manuscript of an ancient author) from the Sher-Gil Archives is a delight to behold.
Album of archival images
There are small black and white images, typed rumination and letters and reflections from the enigmatic Umrao Singh Sher-Gil’s photographic archive. He was a man with the physique that is both enviable and perfect and his notes tell us about his practice of abstinence, his personal fears and his love for his family members. Indeed once you look closely at his notes as well as the images of Shergil, that are riveting, you know this archive is an album that echoes a parallel legacy. When you study the private nature of its contents you realise that unconsciously Umrao Shergil was every bit a mini-historian in the manner in which he constructed an archive that speaks of a modern proto-postcolonial subject in which the personal and the private both become elegiac emblems.
Shergil’s photographic universe
The Amrita images have about them a haunting gravitas as well as a forlorn, despondent grace that tells us that her father’s photographic universe began and ended with members of his immediate family.
The images tell us also that Umrao was a princely individual who was both a recluse as well as a fastidious eccentric. He was happy clicking self portraits in an age when the world hadn’t heard of such an exercise. Obviously he loved dressing up, kept an impeccable home and seemed to be very much in love with his own image as well as his mirror.
The book on Umrao Shergil published by Photoink tells us that the hundreds of photographs that he took of his family form an extraordinary record of the life and world of an Indo-European family, and are a valuable document in the archives of modernity — in the large sense of that term.
Two images of Amrita call for scrutiny — the artist at her easel, Simla, India, 1937 and Amrita wearing a zari sari Simla, 1936.
The image which shows Amrita momentarily turning away from her easel, paintbrushes in hand suggests a hint of restlessness that shades into something more melancholy than in the more formally posed portraits.
Amrita is always impeccably and exquisitely draped, but appears sometimes wistful, sometimes elusively withdrawn, but nevertheless undeniably beautiful. Clad in a zari sari, she is the epitome of grace.
In his essay Deepak Ananth wrote, “Was it (melancholy) due to a growing sense of isolation that had crept upon her in the years prior to her sudden death in 1941? (The artist alludes to her intellectual solitude in some of her letters.) And yet the pictures she painted at the time hardly indicate a failure of artistic nerve. On the contrary, they suggest that she was poised to become a truly major artist. But that promise was to remain unfulfilled.”
Umrao a pioneer
After reading and studying the prints you know that Umrao Shergil deserves to be feted in history, to be seen as a pioneering figure of Indian photography, an auteur. He had followed Amrita’s self-transformations, probably as beguiled as she was, by the face she presented to the world. And yet many of the photographs taken in the late 1930s disclose a lingering disquiet in her expression. By figuring so centrally in her father’s photographic art, Amrita Sher-Gil helped forge a record of a hybrid culture, one that was nourished by both East and West yet managed to transcend both.
And one wistfully remembers Amrita’s words. “How can one feel the beauty of a form, the intensity or the subtlety of a colour, the quality of a line, unless she is a sensualist of the eyes?”
Writer: Uma Nair
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Actors who have chosen to speak out in favour of protesting students have been ticked off and taken off their assignments
Legendary Hollywood actor Meryl Streep has never been shy about her criticism of US President Donald Trump, calling him out publicly and even fighting his counters on Twitter about her being a two-bit talent. Way back in January 2017, she taught him the manners of public life, saying the “instinct to humiliate, when it’s modelled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful… gives permission for other people to do the same thing. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” So apt in India of our times. Of course, Streep continues her unhindered career run and Trump, despite a liberal-dominated film industry not mincing words about him, doesn’t make too much of it. He is very clear, he has his space, actors theirs. Even in its commercial blockbusters, Hollywood metaphorically plays up the motif of the gigantic tyranny of a supremacist regime by pitting it against the common man. However, things are different when it comes to Bollywood, which has been traditionally pro-establishment, except the arthouse and independent schools of thought, and through regime changes, has humanised respective ideologies and propaganda in its stories. It is this compliance that has even made it a tool of the Government’s soft diplomacy and a key component of the country’s cultural matrix. And it is precisely because of this cosy arrangement that the Hindi film industry has rarely raised its head against the establishment, be it in the public or private domain. In fact, actors have always been coopted, some of them becoming brand ambassadors, spokesmen and even members of political parties and benefitting from the tradeoff. So it is that despite conscience calls, they eat humble pie. Even bend in the face of pernicious bans on artistes across borders. And when they don’t, as evidenced by the recent support for the ongoing students’ protests, the establishment gently reminds them what they owe to it. The first casualty was actor Sushant Singh, the narrator of the hugely popular TV series Savdhaan India, who was taken off the assignment simply because as an alumni of Kirori Mal College, he thought he owed it to his origins to decry the brutal crackdown on Jamia students. Though the TV channel claimed that the show format had changed, it isn’t difficult to decipher that some strings were pulled to target him where it hurts most, his regular job. This is not new considering the establishment has pulled out “unfriendly” TV anchors overnight to create lapdog, propagandist news networks. Actor Parineeti Chopra, too, was dropped as brand ambassador of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign for supporting the students. And actor-director-producer Farhan Akhtar was ticked off by the police for circulating a rallying call on social media about a protest event in Mumbai. By acting upon a few popular names, the message is clear to A-listers on social media, that their star value is dependent on their public posturing. Who would know that better than Aamir Khan or Shah Rukh Khan, who have time and again been questioned on their loyalty as Muslims when they expressed auxiliary concern about the rising intolerance in India? As for the others, like Swara Bhaskar, Anurag Kashyap and Richa Chadha, they aren’t stars in the traditional sense, have an independent existence and have no qualms about blending with the larger fraternity of thinking artistes. Big names like Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, who have been constant voices against identity politics and vigilantism, are more the intelligentsia than stars that the regime can do without.
Newer actors, who draw on Generation Next for their appeal, are questioning status quo and wondering why posing with the PM for a selfie was worthier than taking a stand. That at least nudged some people out of their comfort zone. Like Alia Bhatt, who may have tweeted an earlier version of our Preamble, but at least tried to highlight the binary agenda implicit in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at a time when she is top of her game. A contrast with Amitabh Bachchan, who helped the Modi makeover by becoming a brand ambassador for Gujarat while he was still being accused of complicity in the 2002 riots there. He also campaigned for the Gandhis before and is now brand ambassador for several Government crusades. But he has an iconic hold on popular consciousness and instead of being cryptic in his tweets, is best placed to exercise some moral authority. He can afford to do that now. Mega stars down south like Rajnikanth, Mammootty and Kamal Haasan have dared to disrupt the conversation given their status. But Bollywood prefers to grin like a well-fed Cheshire cat.